Blog Post by: Ashlee Meier
As I’m sure you well know, there is no magic wand when it comes to fundraising. It’s called development for a reason. Development within fundraising is the process of creating and enhancing relationships with (potential) donors to ensure current and future funding. It is a commitment, an investment and, when done well, can prove an incredibly fruitful return.
BUT, what about when we only have their attention for a few short hours at an event?!?AGHHHHH! Woah woah, calm down! While there is no magic wand, after spending a decade between organizing fundraising events as a Director of Development and coaching teams across the country on bringing their events to life, I have found there is one distinct difference between the so-so galas and the unforgettable evenings.
Spoiler alert: It isn’t the decor!
You know the room. You’ve stood in it…or peeked in from a window…or perhaps you’ve been the creator behind it. The room that feels magical. The room that has a tangible electricity running through it. The room that swells with emotion, followed by a wave of generosity sweeping through it in a way that leaves everyone who experiences it excited and fulfilled.
This is the event that blows by its revenue goals. This is the event that gets grassroots social buzz because people just HAVE to share about it. This is the event where guests spend or give more than they anticipated, but rather than regretting it the next day, they already can’t wait to purchase their tickets and do it again next year. It’s a wonderful room to be in…but how do you make it happen? How do you create this atmosphere of giving?
Look at the whole puzzle.
There are a LOT of moving parts to most events and they all require time, energy, and effort to be successful. Trust me, I know how easy it is to get lost in the weeds, carefully considering each detail of every element. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to do that, but you can’t do JUST that!
To create the optimal atmosphere of giving, you have to step back and look at how all those elements fit together and think strategically about how to use the individual components to build energy and focus momentum as a whole. A few things to spend time on: layout and room flow (especially the position of revenue activations), event timing, and the run of show order.
Three words: Music, fun, focus. You might say, well duh, but when you are up to your eyeballs in event details, it’s easy to overlook some common sense pieces.
Music: Being prepared to play the right music at the right time during your event is critical. It helps set the tone for the emotional roller coaster you ideally want to take your guests on, fills any potentially awkward gaps, and adds to the fun. Instead of just throwing on elevator music, consider your song selections carefully both during mingling time and in the run of show. Note: you’ll need to work with your AV team to ensure speakers are in place so guests can hear your music selections in every portion of the event.
Fun: The work you do is serious, no doubt, and perhaps your event is, too, but even the most uplifting, powerful and inspirational agendas need a little fun in the mix to encourage energy! Think about ways to sprinkle in fun that is authentic to your organization and mission.
Focus: You have the power to focus your guests using the big picture pieces mentioned above (layout, timing, run of show), so do it! Decide what your priorities are and use volunteers, music, lighting, height – whatever it takes to draw your guests’ attention to where YOU want it at the time you want it there.
Capitalize on momentum.
You’ve nailed down a masterpiece layout, the music is just right, your guests are having fun, are focused on the good work you do and positive energy is coursing through the room….now what? ATTACK! Just kidding….but really, NOW is the time to make your ask! Whether that’s through a live auction, fund-a-need, or a simple conversation, you have set the stage, and now it’s time to invite your guests to REALLY be a part of the core goal of the day. When you’ve invested in creating an atmosphere of giving, this moment becomes special, memorable, exciting, and difficult to say no to.
Creating an atmosphere of giving is one of the (many) areas we love to work on with our STUDIO 4Forty partner teams and seeing their results is oh so fulfilling. Recently, a first year team who had to postpone their inaugural event due to Covid, finally got to see their hard work come to fruition. They committed to listening and following our STUDIO 4Forty best practices while incorporating their incredible depth of supporter knowledge and event experience. The result was a truly magical event in year one that created fabulous momentum for their mission and brought in 183% of their net budget goal. Yes, you are seeing that correctly…83% more than they had hoped for.
Yes, it’s another thing to think about, but I promise you – it’s worth it! And if you don’t know where to start, we’d love to help.